Just what is this Freedom Rock phenomenon?
There’s a boulder that sits along Highway 25 in Adair County, Iowa, not far south of I-80. Someone would spray it with graffiti, but in 1999 local muralist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen got to idea to paint a thank you to America’s veterans for Memorial Day.
Sorensen has painted that rock with new images every year in time for Memorial Day. It’s his own donation and admiration for those who’ve served their country.
While painting murals across the country, he thought about a senator visiting each of Iowa’s 99 counties every year. What a great idea to paint a Freedom Rock for each county, and The Freedom Rock Tour began.
During the winter months Sorensen paints indoor murals, or outdoor ones where the climate is warm, and is a newly-elected Iowa State Representative.
Summers, he and his family have traveled to Iowa’s smaller towns painting a Freedom Rock for each county. He schedules two weeks for each one, although the painting takes about a week. He can get 10 to 12 of them done each year, using paint that should last for decades.
We recently made at trip to Winterset to see the Madison County Freedom Rock. Set among benches, walkways, and flagpoles, Winterset’s boulder is large enough to be able to convey some Madison County history–as well as connections to the military. The west side features four POWs. One of them is Larry Spencer from Earlham.
John Wayne wasn’t a veteran, but he played military roles several times. He was born in Winterset, so one side is dedicated to him.
Winterset has its own Iowa Quilt Museum. Quilts for veterans are sewn by the group Quilts of Valor, which is highlighted on the east side.
George Stout shares the south side of the slab with Glenn Martin. Martin, born in Macksburg, Iowa, became an aviation pioneer. The WWII story of George Stout has been preserved in the movie “The Monuments Men.”
The only Freedom Rock redesigned and repainted every year in the original one along Highway 25 in Adair County, Iowa.
Ray Sorensen would like to eventually paint a Freedom Rock in all 50 states. Currently there are Freedom Rocks in Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin, with other states signing up for their own.
Thousands of people have stopped by to see the original Freedom Rock and take pictures. Many times there are several motorcyclists taking photos, often veterans themselves.
Thanks to Bubba Sorensen, his Freedom Rock phenomenon is a wonderfully creative way to honor veterans and to draw people to small-town Iowa.